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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Flying in Alaska

Back in the fall of the historic year of 1968, my wife and I took a camping trip in our little black VW Bug all the way from D.C. up to Fairbanks, Alaska.   It took two and a half weeks of some truly sensational sight-seeing to get there.

  We gave the Bug a rest in Fairbanks and went to Anchorage by plane.   Then, in the airport while waiting to go on a tourist flight to Nome, my wife fainted while in line, though she quickly revived, and then all was well.   We blamed it on bad drinking water at the campground in Fairbanks, though I was all right.  We flew up to Nome, hung around there a little, and next took another flight to Kotzebue, an Eskimo village north of the Arctic Circle.  (That was what they called them in those days, "Eskimos," though that was later considered to be a perjorative term.)  We hung around Kotzebue for a few hours and did the normal tourist stuff,  after which we flew back to Nome, and hung around there for a night and a day I guess, and next back to Anchorage and finally to Fairbanks, where we rejoined our faithful little Bug, which from then on kept us safely on the ground, or at least as long as we weren't on board car ferries, of which there were a fair number, too... 

That works out to six short flights we took in Alaska in just a few days.  

Alaska has by far the highest incidence of air accidents of any state in the Union, but we didn't know that, and if we had known, I doubt that we would have spent much time thinking about it.  My wife, Esther, spends hardly any time at all on such considerations anyway, and generally we were pretty blase about all those plane rides.

Now they are investigating why a plane crashed into a mountainside a few days ago, taking the lives of several, including a crusty old U.S. Senator named Ted Stevens.   He undoubtedly had taken thousands of flights all over Alaska in his day, far past the law of averages, I would think.

Nevertheless, when I read about this tragedy, my thoughts immediately went back to the disappearances while in flight in 1972, four years after we had taken off from that same airport in Anchorage,  of the then Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Hale Boggs (father of the pitiable conservative commentator, Cokie Roberts),  along with three others, including one of the House's junior members, Nick Begich, who was the father of the current junior Senator from Alaska, Mark Begich.

After the most extensive search  possible, no traces of those four or of their plane were ever found, and they are believed to have been swallowed up and covered over by one of the innumerable crevasses in the numerous glaciers in the southeast part of Alaska.

A while ago someone said it would be four hundred years before the glacier would melt enough for those remains to be revealed.    But I have a hunch that the way all that ice is melting in these days of global warming,  one day soon tourists on board a tour ship in the Prince William Sound or some such place will be "treated" to the sight of that glacier disgorging that plane and the victims.   But they had better keep a sharp eye, because they will probably only have a few minutes to do so.

Usually the pilots of such plane crashes don't attract much notice, but the pilot of the Boggs and Begich crash was an interesting character named Don Jonz, a guy very much in the stripe of the cocky Alaskan bush pilots, as shown by the distinction he had of writing a published article beforehand in which he downplayed the dangers of planes in Alaska icing up.

Reportedly, on the day of that crash there was quite a bit of icing on the route the plane probably took on the way to its fateful encounter with a glacier.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

My,such cynicism distracted from what could have been an interesting article.

4:46 PM  

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